Success in brand integration demands a greater level of sophistication — and expectation. Whether in entertainment or the influencer space, the days of simply plopping in a product are long gone. In its place is an ecosystem that is exciting, and highly effective for brands, it’s where consumers’ eyeballs are and is more measurable than ever.
As brand integration sees the spotlight get brighter and hotter, one of the key considerations is determining the best first steps in taking advantage of this dynamic, growing marketing space.
Whether it’s in traditional Hollywood-style entertainment or the continually emerging influencer space, one of the biggest issues that brands can face is a version of “shiny object syndrome.”
“One of the most important things is to look at content objectively and not subjectively,” says Erin Schmidt, executive vice president, global client services at BEN. “We all know the content that we like to watch, but that doesn't mean that’s where you’ll find the right consumers for your brand.”
Indeed, even as shows like Stranger Things, Billions and House of Cards, or “hot” influencers like Liza Koshy, garner substantial attention, discipline in selecting who to work with is paramount. As entertainment and influencers work to capture culture and take advantage of today’s zeitgeist, marketers are wise to learn about where their own brand can fit in well.
“Creators are experts at developing the exact content that people want to tune into and watch, whether that’s on TV, streaming or through social channels with influencers,” notes Schmidt. “With our technology, we can identify what content best fits a marketer’s brand and objectives, and we help build their knowledge base.”
Another critical component in preparation is the understanding that successful results come from a hybrid campaign approach that is fully optimized and built for the long-term, whether it’s with scripted or unscripted entertainment or influencers.
Zillow is a particularly germane example. Early on in their successful integration program, the brand experimented with a range of executions including verbal mentions (a character saying the brand name), visuals (showing the brand in the content) and verbal/visual combinations (both).
“We researched the impact of each execution,” says Schmidt. “What we learned is that the verbal mention was as impactful as the verbal/visual combo and that allowed us to work with the budget more effectively.”
The continual optimization of the budget is not something that can necessarily be done in the short-term or as a one-off. Preparing for that contingency is important for brands to understand up front.
“To deliver multiple integrations, we look to capitalize on 6 to 12 month periods,” notes Schmidt. “This mitigates any risk and also shows the creator community, especially in Hollywood, that a brand is committed, which always leads to incredible opportunities.”
Partnership and support in the entertainment and influencer space can take many forms — from in-kind to direct financial support. Done in an authentic way, allowing creative talent to work their magic can yield substantial dividends.
Brands like Microsoft, General Motors and beverage brand Proximo are three long-term BEN and entertainment industry brands who have seen great success through expanding their knowledge base. Over the years, they have planned for the long-term, taken a hybrid approach and allowed the talent to do what they do best.
“These, and other brands, are synonymous within entertainment,” says Schmidt. “People know they support the community and everyone from producers to writers wants to work with them because they are helping to enhance their product and output.”
LONG-TERM VS ONE-OFF?
Though integration may be perceived as an area where brands can dabble, the fact is that marketers see a greater, more sustained benefit when looking longer-term. Like most practices in marketing, the misperception may be based on what was done in the past.
“We’re all taught that campaigns are very structured with a defined timeline and lifecycle,” says Stephanie Dade, senior vice president of global content and integrations at BEN. “Brand integration has traditionally been looked at as added value instead of a true component of the overall marketing mix and as a result, didn’t receive the same prioritization.”
As the landscape changes, with more options than ever and consumers continuing to avoid ads, integration, especially taking a long-term approach, makes more sense than ever.
“There’s risk in one-offs,” says Dade. “It may look, on paper, like it aligns with a campaign or launch. But there’s a great deal of research that points to the value of frequency, seeing a product multiple times over the course of a season. The product needs to be seen as a part of the story, not as a distraction from it.”
Indeed, if a brand looks to shoehorn themselves into content, especially entertainment, that lack of authenticity can stick out — and not necessarily in the best way.
When done right, in a true long-term partnership, brands stand to benefit due to building trust with creators, who may be more willing to feature products in storylines more often. Even in unscripted content, long-term success has been evident in many places.
“When brands are considering integrations, they need to look for producers who will be brand partners,” says Jordan Passon, director, product placement and integrations at Microsoft. “Finding partners that really believe brands should be in service to the storytelling, and not the other way around.”
“I think most people had a different view of Ford after they partnered with American Idol,” adds Dade. “It was a good example of a brand taking a risk early and then building a long-term partnership.”
Additionally, brands that offer expertise to a production can often build a critical rapport that results in greater opportunities. One of the more prominent brands that uses long-term thinking to great effect is Microsoft. Although initially perceived as a Hollywood outsider, a great depth of trust has been built over the years and they are now looked to as critical partners.
“They’ve always come to the table with solutions for the producers, directors, writers — in truth, they actively support all of the creative community,” notes Dade, who first worked with the brand on Smallville during her time with Warner Bros Television and helped introduce Surface tablets on Grey’s Anatomy, contemporizing Seattle Grace’s characters who used to carry binders.
A long-term relationship has also borne substantial fruit for seven seasons on the CBS show Hawaii Five-O. Producers rely on the brand to not only provide product and software for the characters to use on-screen but also the most accurate and innovative features that can drive a more authentic and powerful storyline. Conversely, Microsoft supports both in-show and out-of-show activations, further extending the relationship.
“The Five-O team meets with the brand every season to immerse themselves in the latest and greatest that Microsoft has to offer – including at times, venturing to Seattle to experience the campus and meet the technologists who are driving the innovation and pushing boundaries. “They want to learn as much as they can so that they are able to showcase the products in the most innovative and authentic way possible while at the same time delivering a great episodic story for their audience” notes Dade. “I think this is an excellent illustration of what a successful long- term relationship looks like.”
THE CONTENT BLUEPRINT
When brands begin their integration journey in entertainment and the influencer spaces, preparation demands a blueprint that is clearly defined, yet affords a level of flexibility. With thousands of content options and opportunities available to a brand, developing the right approach to content can help build substantial success.
Up front, however, the strength of any long- standing relationship in the space demands a clear understanding of what success to the brand looks like.
“It’s key for us to understand what success looks like to a brand,” says Erin Schmidt, executive vice president, global client services at BEN. “But we also have to understand what it doesn’t look like. What doesn’t work for a CMO is just as important to know.” Establishing parameters also helps in determining the best brand/opportunity match. Taking it one step further, the continually developing technology and measurement standards at BEN helps improve the understanding of key categories, while leveraging long-standing relationships all in service to a brand’s KPIs.
“It’s science, then art, then back to science,” notes Schmidt. “There’s matching, then letting the creatives bring it all beautifully to life, then back to the science so that it all can be measured and optimized to meet a brand’s objectives across platforms whether it’s YouTube, film, television or influencers.”
In developing a content plan, two areas that demand attention, like any marketing approach, are the options available and the associated risks. This is where BEN’s experience, process, technology and understanding of brand integration come into play.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content or influencers,” says Schmidt. “Marketers use our technology platform and put a great deal of trust in us to give them the best recommendations. Having deep relationships with Hollywood producers, for example, allows us to find the right opportunities to meet the brand’s objectives. The bottom line is that we always have the brand’s best interest in mind.”
In terms of alignment, in building a content plan, Schmidt advises brands to “not overthink it.”
“You might think Modern Family is the best thing that could happen for your brand,” she says. “But if there isn’t a scripted moment that’s the right fit for you, it could be highly counter- productive — and there are thousands of other shows that may provide a better opportunity to align.”
A good example of timing and alignment in action is one of BEN’s newer clients, Prego. The brand was looking to time their integration in the key areas of fall and winter. Additionally, up front, the brand said that their main KPI was the “family meal moment,” where characters were enjoying a meal together, showing the authenticity of the brand.
The brand approved a long list of opportunities and BEN delivered “family meal moments” by finding producers that were most passionate. “The producers of Scorpion loved Prego and found a moment in the script that worked,” said Schmidt. The overall campaign includes integrations on Scorpion, Mom, American Housewife and The Big Bang Theory, long a highly-rated program.
“It’s a great campaign that aligned perfectly with the brand’s KPIs,” notes Schmidt. “We were able to deliver excellent results based on a client aligning with our systems and processes.”
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